UNFPA - United Nations Population Fund

State of World Population 2005



© Chris de Bode/Panos Pictures
An old woman prays for peace in the Oromo Camp for internally displaced people in Uganda. For 19
years the Lord's Resistance Army has terrorized the people living in the Northern provinces.

The Promise of Human Rights

-Human Rights and Poverty Reduction

-The Human Rights of Girls and Women

-Human Rights: Essentials for the MDGs

-Reproductive Rights in Practice

-Rights, Gender and Culture: Seeking Convergence

-Support for Disenfranchised Groups

Support for Disenfranchised Groups

Since the 1990s, more emphasis has been placed on securing the rights of historically neglected and marginalized groups. These include persons with disabilities, migrant workers and ethnic, racial and religious minorities and castes, including the Dalits or "untouchables" in India, the Roma in Europe and indigenous communities in Latin America and elsewhere. The rights of women and children in humanitarian crises and of adolescents-two groups who represent large and critical sections of their countries' population-will be discussed in later chapters.

Together, these marginalized groups represent a sizeable share of the global population: disabled persons account for 10 per cent (or 600 million);(59) indigenous people, for 370 million living in some 70 countries;(60) international migrants number an estimated 175 million people.(61) People belonging to these groups tend to fare the worst in terms of MDG indicators, especially true in the case of indigenous people who are often among the poorest of the poor. They frequently have inadequate access to clean water and other resources and may be pushed into fragile or degraded ecosystems. Compared to the general population of their countries, they have higher rates of infant and maternal mortality, greater vulnerability to HIV, less access to education and/or limited participation in the government and social systems that affect their lives.(62) All of these groups remain largely invisible and voiceless, often ignored by national policies and laws, even though they face multiple forms of discrimination, structural poverty and social exclusion.

Gender discrimination exacerbates inequities. Disabled adolescent girls and women are at particularly high risk of sexual abuse and have limited autonomy and access to education and employment. They also face risks of violations of their reproductive rights, including forced sterilization and infringements on their rights to marry and form a family.(63) Indigenous women are targets of both gender-specific and racially motivated violence. Poverty and limited access to resources further erode their economic and social rights, while patriarchal traditions present obstacles to decision-making and community participation.(64) Migrant women in search of work in cities or abroad are exposed to trafficking and exploitation and can end up living in slave-like conditions as domestic servants.(65)

Fortunately, an international human rights framework that offers greater protection for these vulnerable groups and that increasingly recognizes the added dimension of gender discrimination, has been evolving since the 1990s. In the last decade, legally-binding conventions,(66) world programmes of action,(67) the international human rights treaty bodies and special rapporteurs(68) have brought increasing attention and protections to advance their rights. Practical guidelines and human rights standards for implementation of national policies and programmes have been developed.(69) In some regions, such as in Africa, Asia and the Americas, specific conventions and forums focusing on the rights of indigenous people and of persons with disabilities have highlighted discrimination against these groups.(70) Civil society networks have mobilized and established advocacy groups to protect their rights. The International Indigenous Women's Forum, for instance, is a platform for advocacy and mobilization on their rights.(71) Some countries now explicitly recognize the rights of these groups, in some cases with specific attention to gender equality. National plans on indigenous people in Mexico and Nepal incorporate a gender perspective. Peru established constitutional provisions for their participation in elections.(72)

The unprecedented scale of both migration and trafficking has given rise to particular concern for the rights of migrant women. Many countries are taking measures to support women who have been victims of trafficking, and some governments have established immigration offices, telephone hotlines and access to information.(73) Jordan and the Philippines, with support from UNIFEM, have set minimum standards and special contracts for domestic workers.(74) The Philippines has established bilateral agreements to promote the rights of their female nationals working in domestic service abroad. Pakistan regulates recruitment agencies to prevent abuses, and India pays for domestic workers who escape from abuse abroad to return home.(75)

Nonetheless, the gap between promise and practice remains wide. The convention protecting indigenous people's rights, though adopted in 1989, has been ratified by only 17 countries.(76) The International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples ended in 2004 without meeting a key objective-adoption of a draft declaration to protect their rights.(77) Similarly, the 1990 convention protecting migrant workers' rights did not come into force until 2003, after the minimum number of countries required had ratified it.(78)

The 2000 Millennium Declaration explicitly calls attention to the rights of minorities and migrants, as well as inclusive political processes.(79) It provides renewed opportunity for a rights-based approach that can work to end the discrimination and exclusion of neglected groups-factors that underlie poverty and hamper prospects for achieving the MDGs.


In Ecuador and in other Latin American countries, UNFPA has been working for more than a decade with indigenous communities to address the powerlessness, discrimination and low self-esteem that women experience in their daily lives, whether within their families or when seeking services. Training on human rights issues and new opportunities for dialogue and reflection on gender equality have helped indigenous women regain pride in their cultural heritage. They have been empowered to tackle domestic violence and demand equal rights to political participation and in reproductive decisions-areas in which the voices of indigenous women were rarely heard.

4. Reproductive Health: A Measure of Equity >>
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